Too early to worry about UNC and Duke after Feast Week failures?

The fans of college basketball’s most bitter rivals don’t often agree, but there’s fan base consensus in Chapel Hill and Durham that both teams have work to do after disappointing Feast Week trips to the PK 85 events in Portland, Ore.

North Carolina went 1-2, demonstrating a lack of consistency, and an inability to defend the perimeter, that is concerning. It isn’t time to panic in Chapel Hill, and in the end, losing the No. 1 ranking and a bit of the fanfare that goes along with it might not be the worst thing for a North Carolina team that emerged from the shadows in March to make a surprise run to the national championship game last season. It’s difficult to adjust to being “the hunted,” even at a blueblood program like North Carolina.

The inability to guard the arc is concern 1a and 1b as the Tar Heels make their way to Assembly Hall to play a top-10 Indiana team Wednesday night (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN). In 3 games in Portland, North Carolina’s opponents shot 37-for-90 from deep, a 41.1% clip. Those numbers are frightening, and coupled with the fact that teams are zoning Carolina regularly and daring the Tar Heels to bomb away from deep, North Carolina’s ability to defend the perimeter will define a number of games when the Heels are cold from the arc, as they were in the loss to Iowa State, when they connected on just 3 of their 18 3-point attempts.

The good news, I suppose, is Caleb Love got going in Portland after a slow start to the season. He averaged almost 25 per contest in the 3 games at the Phil Knight Invitational, scoring from inside and outside.

Love shouldn’t need 36 shots to get to 34 points, but then again, if teams are going to zone the Tar Heels constantly, expect Love to keep firing away.

How the Fatigueless Four (and new starter Pete Vance, who had a good Phil Knight Invitational) respond this week, with games against the Hoosiers and Virginia Tech (Sunday) will tell you a great deal about this basketball team.

The PK 85 wasn’t as dire for Duke, which finished 2nd at the Phil Knight Legacy event and unlike its rival 8 miles west, picked up a quality win, defeating an NCAA Tournament-bound Xavier team in the semifinals. Duke has warts, though, and they were exposed in its other 2 games at the tournament, a narrow escape against a dreadful Oregon State team and a lopsided, 75-56 loss to Purdue in the championship game.

Duke’s biggest problem? The Blue Devils can’t shoot. They went 12-for-59 from beyond the arc in Portland, a woeful 20.3% number that will make it difficult for Duke to beat teams content to play zone or which, like Purdue, has the talent inside to offset the Blue Devils’ impactful frontcourt. It is unlikely Duke will shoot as poorly all season as it did in Portland, but for now, the Blue Devils clearly need to get on the offensive glass, run actions to feed the post and get to the free-throw line as their primary means of offense.

Dariq Whitehead, the best offensive piece of Duke’s 3 consensus top-5 recruits in Jon Scheyer’s star-studded recruiting class, still is recovering from an injury that limited him during fall camp and at present, averaging just 5 points a game and shooting an icy 29% from the field. Until Whitehead starts to score, Duke’s going to be a vulnerable team, no matter how great freshman big Kyle Filipowski is — and he has been sensational.

Feast Week mostly famine for the rest of the non-Virginia ACC

The Cavaliers opened Feast Week with the win at the Continental Tire Main Event, but for the rest of the conference, the most wonderful time of the college basketball season outside of March mostly involved losing basketball games.

Louisville went 0-3 at the Maui Invitational, the 1st goose egg for an ACC school at the storied event. For those wondering, I am not sure this Cardinals team could beat Chaminade, so having the Silverswords in the field again might not have even helped Kenny Payne’s group.

Florida State’s Feast Week was worse. The Seminoles, playing on a semi-home Florida at Disney World just outside of Orlando, lost all 3 of its games at the ESPN Events Invitational. The tournament opener, a brutal loss to low-major Sienna that the Seminoles never led, has to be the nadir of the Leonard Hamilton era at FSU. Help isn’t on the way, either, at least not until 5-star recruit Baba Miller returns after serving his 16-game NCAA suspension.

Georgia Tech joined the “0 for Feast Week” club as well, losing both its games at the Fort Myers Tip-Off Classic in Florida. The consolation-game loss, an 84-60 blowout defeat to Marquette, saw Georgia Tech shoot just 33% from the field.

Finally, Notre Dame lost the 1st game it played against a quality opponent, falling by 12 on Black Friday in New York City to St. Bonaventure. Mike Brey’s rotation at present is 6 players, 2 of whom are freshmen, and until the Fighting Irish get more reserves and rebound better, they’ll remain the bubble team that narrowly got into the field a season ago.

The Final ACC-Big Ten Challenge is underway and well, Virginia is really good

Tony Bennett’s team trailed by 11 points during the 2nd half Tuesday night at the Crisler Center, surrendering 1.2 points per possession to a quality Michigan team through the game’s first 24 minutes. That’s when Virginia woke up. The Hoos closed the game by allowing just 20 Michigan points over the final 16 minutes and took the lead for good when Jayden Gardner made this shot of gorgeous ball movement with less than a minute to play.

Gardner has scored more than 2,000 points during his college career but has been forgotten about a bit on a team where Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin, transfer Ben Vander Plas, and even super senior Kihei Clark get more eyeballs as bucket getters. But on a night when Franklin scored just 2, it was Gardner who filled the void. The senior scored 16 points, including the winning bucket, in leading Virginia to a huge come-from-behind win and a high-water moment for the ACC in the final ACC-Big Ten challenge.

We’ll miss the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the incredible early-season environments it generated and the back-and-forth duels for “best conference in the land” supremacy it often represented. For more than 2 decades, the challenge helped transform college basketball, using high-profile matchups as a way to push the sport away from cupcake city during November and December and into the current landscape, where résumé opportunities matter more than feel-good home wins against directional schools.

With the Big Ten moving away from ESPN in football, the writing had been on the wall, but the challenge now is gone, replaced by an ACC-SEC challenge next season. That will be fun, but it won’t be the same.

This year’s early ACC-Big Ten Challenge highlights?

  • Clemson upending Penn State in 2 overtimes, and getting a season-high 25 minutes and 22 points, from star big man PJ Hall in the process.
  • Tyree Appleby, who is an early candidate for ACC Player of the Year, dropping 32 points on a Wisconsin team that was marvelous in finishing 3rd at the Maui Invitational, in Wake Forest’s 78-75 upset of the Badgers at the Kohl Center. Steve Forbes team missed the NCAA Tournament a season ago because it lacked the type of résumé victories out of conference that get you into the Big Dance. A win in Madison? That’s the biggest win of the Forbes era, and the Demon Deacons suddenly have the look and feel of a NCAA Tournament team, despite losing their best 2 players from last season’s NIT group.

  • The challenge was less kind to Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Louisville, all of whom lost by at least 16 points. Jim Boeheim’s Orange team, which is 3-4 with home losses to the likes of Colgate and Bryant, should officially hit the panic button. A 2nd straight losing season is on tap in upstate New York and with it, the existential question of whether it is time for Boeheim to walk away, for love of the program he meticulously built.
  • Remaining ACC-Big Ten Challenge games, including a trio of blockbuster matchups Wednesday night: No. 25 Ohio State at No. 17 Duke; No. 18 North Carolina at No. 10 Indiana; and 2 underrated teams in Rutgers and Miami meeting in Coral Gables. With ACC play set to begin Friday night, these games are huge opportunities for ACC teams to build momentum for the months to come.